30 November 2005

blueboy - "sea horses" (from the if wishes were horses lp, available???)

in brief : i hope you all won't hate me for posting a song so defiantly springtime, esp. when there are so many other reasons to hate me, like abbreviating "especially." to make amends, i include a mortifying story of personal romantic heartbreak.

this is blueboy. dollars to donuts, they're named after the orange juice song. i mentioned them last night in connection w/ harvey williams. no, this blog isn't turning into six degrees of harvey williams, but the scene is so incestuous, and its sound insidious, that when i put one twee record on, the concatenation begins, the dominoes fall, and soon i'm listening to the sea urchins. (a question : does anyone know if there's a box of this stuff? i feel as if i'm only scratching the surface.)

a couple of years ago, i made a twee mix for a girl i liked and this was on it. i know i wrote liners, but i can't remember what i said about this song. so much of it defies description; if pressed, i'd say it makes me, a grown man, want to skip; it makes me hope for rain, so i could go through the motions of running outside w/ an open umbrella, only to close it and embrace the rain. i'd want someone to see me doing these things, which hints at the performative aspect of the music, or at least to my connection w/ it.

after a nice dinner, and a subsequent retreat to a coffeehouse to extend the night, it also made me want to play footsie w/ this girl. i was under the influence of her charm ... and sake. have i ever mentioned here that i don't drink? well, there it is--and there she went. and so i'm firmer now in my decision, and wish that i had stuck to it that night. even now, i'm known to sigh when i see the name of the publisher she worked for on the spine of a book. twee songs--no, twee bands, whole subgenres, have formed from lesser disappointments.

"sea horses" is not, however, a record of disappointment--indeed, it is an inspiring, pulse-quickening record! it will make you want to have your heart broken! it's not too late!
belle & sebastian - "another sunny day" (from the life pursuit lp, available for purchase soon.)

"another sunny day" is the most retrogressive track on an album that makes progress by drawing influence from the past, namely from the midnight special and am gold. this period seems precisely chosen b/c it marks a time when all of the perceived influences of belle & sebastian have either broken up, or haven't yet formed. what makes "another sunny day" unique, then, is that it sounds like belle & sebastian of days past--in particular, in sounds like, yes, another sunny day.

"another sunny day" is, as far as i know, the first time belle & sebastian have named a song after a band--no, "the boy with the arab strap" doesn't count--instead of just referencing them in the liners or paying homage to them through the music. they do the latter here also; the sheer amount of guitars approaches "you should all be murdered," though the lack of an electric guitar is notable though hardly shocking. the lack of animus, too, separates them from asd, its spirit more in line w/ that band's "i'm in love with a girl who doesn't know i exist."

my favorite belle & sebastian songs ("slow grafitti," "if she wants me") have stuart singing in a high pitch; the higher he sings, the more keening and poignant his voice becomes; an ironic tone becomes difficult to maintain when one has to worry about just hitting the notes. such a tone is put to good use here, as each stanza presents a snapshot of a moment in a courtship. in the last, he sings, "so what went wrong, it was a lie, it crumbled apart," and his voice appropriately crumbles. it's a four seasons sort of a song--the weather, not the band--and though it ends stormily, one feels assured that another sunny day is as inevitable as the vernal equinox and as close at hand as the "repeat" button.

29 November 2005

another sunny day - "you should all be murdered" (from the london weekend lp ... um, ebay, maybe?)

in brief : when it's raining and cold and you're doing holiday shopping, and one has such thoughts, it's nice to have something to hum along to.

harvey williams was something of the forrest gump of the twee-pop scene, playing in the field mice, saint etienne, blueboy, and trembling blue stars. before all of that, he played in his own band, another sunny day, whose records are v. much of a muchness w/ others on the legendary sarah records label. it's a bit like the field mice, then, except colder and meaner.

the sound and theme of the record seem to be equally informed by the idea that all the people one likes are those that are dead and that one should be bludgeoned in one's bed. uncharitable, then, but another sunny day has a way of taking the edge off of even the hardest truths. harvey and the band sound like they have an inexhaustible array of stringed instruments at their disposal; the final product is as windswept as "william, it was really nothing" and as stinging as "index." they're less obdurate than either lawrence or morrissey--one imagines the sentiment presented here is but a moment of anger and not a worldview--which does make them less iconic, but they remain influential nonetheless ...
jenny lewis w/ the watson twins - "born secular" (from the rabbit fur coat lp, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : no, no, no. no fucking way are you getting the wilburys cover. not here at least. it shouldn't be too hard to find, really.

i put on the jenny lewis album last night while i'm eating my dinner. my dinner, mind. three-quarters in, and its totally offensive, and conducive to digestion. track eight begins and my ears prick up, thinking that the byrdsian guitar intro could be well suited to miss lewis, all the while thinking that this sounds a bit familiar. jenny sings and then i realize it's "handle with care." i'm still thinking this is a good idea. anyway, it's harrison's part and jenny outsings him--which is a blurb if i ever heard one; put it underneath the "11 out of 10" from the nme.

but then things got v. bad. v. bad.

me, i sing pretty good, but i wouldn't want to come w/in sniffing distance of anything roy orbison ever sang. if asked, i would kindly turn the individual down. but, of course, i probably also wouldnt have named my band "death cab for cutie." now that i've given you a substantial clue, who do you think sings the orbison part? right, BEN GIBBARD, for fuck's sake. did i mention that i was eating dinner? i was eating dinner, yes. oh, but there's more. conor bastard oberst is on here, too, creepily singing dylan's part, fearing that some people have missed the comparison. also: m. ward. who has never inspired me to say anything either way. i mean, this is the most mismatched nightmare collaboration since the new german government.

and what you are getting? "born secular" is a great tune, like something off of the new cat power--only if chan were the type to look at herself in the mirror more often. i've got nothing against vanity; where would pop music be w/o it? where would i be w/o it? and, after all, it was poe (not the band) who said that nothing was more intense, elevating, and pure than contemplating the beautiful, which jenny surely is, and that melancholy is the most legitimate of poetic tones. so, jenny sings, "God gives and then He takes," pauses, and then finishes in falsetto, "from me," and, over a sparse backing of church organ and drum machine, it is the most lonesome sound in the world. one could argue that it goes on for too long, but let the girl cry, i say.

28 November 2005

richard ashcroft - "break the night with colour" (from the keys to the world lp, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : normally, i'd post this sort of thing in the morning; this though is a (good) radio rip, so caveat auditor.

one has to wonder if this is a historical moment for richard ashcroft. it's been three years since human conditions, not an album that left most w/ bated breath, but his performance of "bittersweet symphony" w/ coldplay was a highlight of live8, and now he'll be touring w/ the band, whose lead singer proclaimed him the greatest songwriter ever and lord of all he surveys. and he's v. optimistic about this record, the best stuff he's ever recorded and such. but, then again, he's always v. optimistic about his records, isn't he? not one to say something like, "the album's shit, but i've become accustomed to a certain lifestyle."

based on "break the night with colour," i'm a little dubious. the familiar, comforting tropes are there; richard is still something of a lone seeker of truth, a solitary man. the track, though, sounds suspiciously like "boulevard of broken dreams," only w/ harpsichord. ashcroft, for his part, sounds more and more like neil diamond w/ the passing of the years. who better, though, to take up the role of the solitary man--"lord i've been trying" from the last record was pure beautiful noise--which might explain why the whole band thing didn't work out.

what he doesn't have here--and, if you think about it, he's never really had it--is neil's sense of chorus. what "break the night with color" does have is a nagging "oooh, oooh," an insidious little hook that burrows deeper w/ each listen. hardly the thing to build a comeback on, especially when one recalls how his best records had at least five or so different hooks. i still want to believe, and i'm sure i'll find something on the album, but i didn't find what i was looking for here.
ryan adams - "night birds" (from the 29 lp, available for preorder here.)

in brief : on 29, ryan adams begins to mature as an artist.

another month, another ryan adams album, the title referring to the number of records he's released this year.

well, not quite. nor does it refer to his age, but it is filled w/ the kind of melancholy and dread that i'll doubtlessly feel at that age, which looms bold and stark for yours truly. what the album is, as opposed to the last two, is a ryan adams solo record, and that becomes apparent early on, and especially on "night birds."

from the opening piano chords, you'll know whether or not this is for you. me, i'm a sucker for this kind of thing : meditative, funereal, resolutely blue. i'm not sure that the song rises to the chords, but it's a triumph of mood--and when he wants, adams can still sing 'em pretty. actually, i think the best thing i can say about "night birds" is that my first reaction was "ryan adams record," and not u2, morrissey, springsteen, van morrison, moby grape, &c. i've been sitting here trying to come up w/ some comparisons; this is what i've come up w/ : late springfield / early solo neil young ; tim buckley's blue afternoon ; big star's third. "night birds," and the album as a whole, wouldn't sound out of place in a playlist comprising these records. BUT! neither does it sound wholly like them. so ryan adams is starting to assert himself as an individual singer / songwriter. or i'm just unable to come up w/ comparisons, my memory faltering w/ advancing age.

23 November 2005

headlights - "tokyo" (from the enemies ep, available for purchase here.)

in brief : just what did bill murray say to scarlett johansson at the end of lost in translation? headlights have ideas, and "a unique niche for themselves that falls nicely between my bloody valentine and the postal service," say the label. but is that a good idea?

headlights better enjoy their grace period while they can; perhaps they understand this, and thus the ep title. w/ clear influence drawn from two of the most overconsumed indie products of recent times, they can expect to catch hell shortly. w/ its stuttering drums, keyb squiggles, and boy / girl vocals, the music track of "tokyo" sounds something like an organic postal service record; the lyric, w/ lines such as "so many little red lights, it's so alive here," seems to have been written while in thrall to lost in translation.

somewhere, the arcade fire is breathing a sigh of relief.

BUT! it's naught to do w/ indietronica or pink wigs, really. it happily resists the temptation to reduce it to its constituent parts by being, well, v. unhappy. one could v. easily imagine that this is the music charlotte listens to as she sits on the window sill contemplating tokyo in its grandeur and immensity, and it becomes all the easier as the din of the guitars intensifies, approximating the tones of kevin shields found on the soundtrack. charlotte would perhaps have found greater solace in the refrain of "tokyo" than she did in those self-help tapes. "another broken heart," it goes, "another town you must take in stride."

22 November 2005

a-ha - "birthright" (from the analogue lp, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : a-ha is so good right now and you don't even know it.

it is our promise here at vs&l that when a-ha releases a new record, we will be right on top of it.

ok, so lifelines was a bust, but don't let that make you forget that "summer moved on" is one of the twenty-or-so best singles of this young century. "birthright" is of similar temperament, but it's far less urgent. (the barometer for these things is the pitch morten harket's falsetto reaches. robert christgau formulated a similar idea about mark e. smith's squeal and the quality of fall records.)

indeed, one could say what "summer moved on" was about, whereas "birthright" presents a number of challenges for the would-be explicator. it matters little, though, when your vocalist can tear into a vowel the way morten does, e.g. the "ee" in "take on me"; the "ay" in "summer moved on"; and now the "oo" in "birthright." twenty years down the line, how does he continue to pull off melancholy so convincingly and w/ such ease? it's easier to envision for types like robert smith and morrissey, but w/ such a voice and such looks as morten harket, it's rather astounding. this is as close to a sigh as pop music gets; in the end, the listener is left gazing out into the middle distance, trying his or her best to look forlorn and world-weary, knowing all along that he or she won't pull it off the way the boys--or should i say men--in a-ha do.
so, um, painfullyawkward.com is a pretty popular site, huh?

well, i've reupped the mp3 you're looking for, levy's "on the dance floor"; i've got some others here. enjoy!

levy - "on the dance floor" (from the rotten love lp, available for purchase here.)

i don't know much about levy, other than that they're a new york-based band led by james levy; based on "on the dance floor," though, i certainly would like to know more, and hope that fate will be so kind as to make that unavoidable.

there's no way that the opening chords to this song could have been composed in waking life--indeed, this is the stuff of a shoegazer's wet dream (think catherine wheel or ride). i could quite happily listen to the opening on repeat for quite some time, only then i'd miss out on what else the song has on offer. levy himself sounds somewhat like the younger ian brown, only w/ a bellow. he sings: "she said, 'i will take you home if you want to,' but i got scared, didn't say yes, she went home with another boy instead." it's like an expansion of the bridge to "how soon is now?", w/ the suggestion that perhaps one leaves the club on their own for other reasons besides a lack of takers. certainly, w/ a song this striking, it should only be a matter of time before levy's dance card is full.
[edit : download link fixed!]

the automatic - "recover" (from the recover single, import available for purchase here.)

the automatic combine elements of three of the bigger british press darlings of this young century--the white stripes, the vines, the rapture--and, on paper, it's easy to see how these three could have combined into a perfect storm of bad.

but it doesn't! it's groovy, driven, and massive; a seven nation army would be too small too unleash such an attack : you'd need, like, a coalition, a coalition of the THRILLING, led by the dance commander-in-chief. the chorus goes, "GET! UP! RECOVER! CUZ YOU'LL NEVER DANCE AGAIN!" you'll find that it's the kind of song that you'll have played ten times in a row w/o having noticed. what you will notice, though, is how easily thing might have gone awry. it's like how if the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by one part in one-hundred billion, the universe would have collapsed by now. the margin for error is just about that slim, which should demonstrate the kind of skill involved here.

21 November 2005

lloyd cole & the commotions - "rattlesnakes" (from the rattlesnakes lp, available for purchase here.)

if i could write pop songs, i'd try to write one just like this, b/c this is exactly the kind of girl i usually fall for (and we all know that girls and pop are inextricably bound up); and, my, anne dudley's string arrangement really does flesh her out. i doubt, though, i'd have the gall to pronounce "saint" after the french, so that it rhymes w/ "waterfront"--but i'm glad lloyd did. this is the song i'm playing more than any other right now, and i hope i know why.

18 November 2005

serena maneesh - "drain cosmetics" (from the serena maneesh lp, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : norwegian rock comes of age.

serena maneesh marks a step forward for norwegian rock--at least, temporally. unlike many of their forebears, their record collection extends through the end of the 1980's. as such, "drain cosmetics" is under the influence of spacemen 3, the slashing, direct riffs recalling "take me to the other side" (even the first words are "take me ... "); the boy / girl dynamic and the occasional odd chord turn recall my bloody valentine ca. isn't anything.

of course, if that were all, it'd all be v. black rebel motorcycle club or the raveonettes; and that's hardly progress. unlike those two bands, they also don't sound as if they were consciously (or self-consciously) to trying to sound like someone else. serena maneesh also impress w/ the deftness of the synthesis, and show moments of true originality elsewhere on the self-titled album. those tracks, however, are more of a piece. moreover, they lack the amphetamine kick and pure rush of "drain cosmetics."

17 November 2005

willie hightower - "walk a mile in my shoes" (from the willie hightower lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : more unjustly neglected soul, brought to you by astralwerks, of all people.

though written and performed by joe south, the version of "walk a mile in my shoes" i knew best was elvis presley's, from that's the way it is. from "the ghetto" to "if i can dream," late-period elvis was on the look out for songs that meant something. "walk a mile in my shoes" is such a song, but coming from the king, the man w/ the most famous first name in the world, it seems to be more of a call for personal empathy than social understanding; to demonstrate how much the song's theme was a leitmotif for elvis's later life, the compilers of the box focusing on his 70's output named it after the song.

coming from a black man from alabama, though, the message comes straight on through. the king's shoes are, indeed, hard to fill, but hightower, w/ his apocalyptic tone and apoplectic style, is more than capable. the nearest comparison i can think of, though he himself is somewhat obscure, is freddie scott; more mainstream, dennis edwards of the temptations might sound like hightower if his voice was pitched slightly higher. at first, i resisted the slowed down tempo, but ultimately the stronger groove helped to compensate. hightower rides atop it expertly, showing that he doesn't need the wings he asks for in the song. what he did need was some open ears, but, recording in the early 70's, he came along at the wrong time for that. compared to the re-evaluation work done on james carr, the willie hightower project still has some work to do, but, on evidence, it is work one hopes get done.
morning after girls - "slowdown" (from the prelude : ep's 1 & 2 lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : aussie band is the missing link between slowdive and mojave 3.

you know, neil halstead could have given us some warning. in retrospect, though, i suppose the major difference between slowdive and mojave 3 at first was, for the most part, an absence of tunes. the morning after girls happily cleave closer to slowdive in that respect, and also in the way they treat a guitar, while observing the folksiness and down-home manner of mojave 3. in other words, this is music that's just as fine for crossing midwestern plains as for navigating the contours of one's navel. along with the engineers' debut, the morning after girls' collected ep's--featuring mark gardiner of ride on one track!--place them at the forefront of what one hopes is a budding nu-gaze movement.

16 November 2005

james carr - "i'll put it to you" (from the my soul is satisfied : the rest of james carr lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : b-side to 1971 atlantic single, the only one he recorded for the label. yet another instance of "what could have been" where the mercurial and supremely gifted james carr is concerned.

ten years ago, i'd have wondered, when it came to "the dark end of the street," how many different artists would be adduced before james carr's name would be mentioned. (he had the first hit version of the song, going top 10 r&b in february 1967.) now, it seems as if even lesser-known songs like "pouring water on a drowning man" have become standards. so well has his re-establishment in the canon been going that, last year, kent released an odds & sods collection, the rest of james carr.

that set features his sole single for atlantic records in 1971, of which "i'll put it to you" was the b-side. if someone knows why he only recorded one single for atlantic, i'd love to know; clearly, it's not down to the quality of the material or of his voice. like the joe tex and mable john tracks posted earlier this week, the producers of atlantic throw a wall of horns behind carr. i don't know what it is exactly--perhaps it's that the timbre of brass matches the soul singer's voice so well, but God damn, it sounds so good. i mean, i have no idea what it means to "put it" to someone--listen and you'll know it's not sexual--but it sure sounds like the ideal way to do right by someone.

what impresses most is, quite simply, the pristine nature of the recording; the band is ace and the production is top-notch. it's regrettable that carr never met w/ such sympathetic conditions again, although w/ the recent reclamation jobs on solomon burke, howard tate, and bettye lavette, it may not yet be too late. but, for those who are familiar w/ carr's sad story, the talent has never been the thing in question.
clearlake - "it's getting light outside" (from the amber lp, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : plucks from the air the enthusiasm, bitterness, and anxiety that make this an astonishing time of year.

this is surely reflects on me personally rather than being a verifiable fact and is another sure sign that i'm in the throes of the affective fallacy, but, gee, this record sounds a lot like a christmas record. that a clearlake record should sound wintry comes as no surprise really. this is a band, after all, whose first two singles were called "winterlight" and "don't let the cold in," and whose two most recent albums will have been released in season. still, there's nothing in the lyric to justify such a conclusion; the music is something else entirely.

the ridiculously buoyant bass drum is like phil spector channeled through low. everything else about the record is abrupt and anticipatory : clipped guitars, charging chords, slicing strings. and i've not even mentioned the sleighbells yet.

no, this defies the general categorization of "christmas record"; this is instead music for the two weeks before christmas. this is what the city sounds like when you're just trying to squeeze through the sidewalks, when you're waiting on line to purchase those last gifts as time ticks away inexorably. it is a joyful anxiety, though; there is a reason for it all. "it's getting light outside!" jason pegg cheers, and though the days are still getting darker at this point--and people have forgotten how to walk, and the christmas music is driving you insane, and the commercialization is too much to bear, and, and--one can't help but think that he's onto something.

15 November 2005

mable john - "your good thing (is about to end)" (from the stax story boxed set, available for purchase here.)

i'll venture to say something somewhat ridiculous (which is nothing new, really, apart from the preface) : damn, i would've liked to have pissed off mable john. "your good thing" is some cold shit, but mable makes it steam. just listen to the way the horns slink behind her on the chorus, and how she elongates the words "real" and "good," filled w/ the delight that can only come from getting out of a bad relationship w/ the upper hand. she's the kind of woman that made joe tex write a song called "hold what you've got," the kind of woman to inspire isaac hayes & david porter to outdo themselves and pen this absolute classic.

some other things i can tell you about mable john :
1 her brother was little willie john.
2 upon graudating high school, she ended up working for bertha gordy's insurance company.
3 a pre-fame supremes sang back-up on her early records.
4 she sings a song called "don't hit me no more" which opens w/ the line "i'm so sorry you had to slap me."

i'll tell you one final thing, more amazing than any of this : "your good thing" only hit #95 pop, and it was the closest thing she ever had to a hit.
wilco - "misunderstood (live)" (from the kicking television : live in chicago lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : an unlikely singalong.

wilco in 2005 is opening their live album w/ "misunderstood." true, they opened being there w/ the song, but in 1996, by comparison, it closed the show. it is the only song that they play from being there--it should go w/o saying that there's nothing from a.m.--and they get it out of the way at the start. listening to both the performance and the crowd's reaction seems to make this clear.

being there was their classic classic rock double-album, their exile in main street, but what "misunderstood" sounds like is nothing so much as mott the hoople. perhaps tweedy lacks ian hunter's bonhomie, but the vocal similarities are there, and i would think that a band should be flattered by the comparison. the crowd is into it, for sure, singing the opening lines, then erupting into applause and shouting the lyric : "YOU STILL LOVE ROCK 'N' ROLL!!!" surely, radiohead doesn't have to put up w/ such a thing. now that's the band, i'd imagine tweedy & co. would rather be compared w/, yhf their okc, a ghost is born their kid a.

"misunderstood" as opener strikes one as a particularly yorkie move : yes, the length and pace, but also the key lyric. as rock show openers go, "i'd like to thank you all for nothing at all" is hardly "hello chicago!" (but they'll get that w/ "via chicago.") on record, this section lasts about twenty-eight seconds and is chopped up so that tweedy doesn't sing "nothing" more than five times in a row. on kicking television, it's extended to just shy of a minute, w/ tweedy screaming "nothing" some thirty-odd times consecutively. it's like your cd player has gotten stuck on the word; it's also like sideshow bob & the rakes in the "cape feare" episode or brian griffin holding his knee and squirming in pain--you wonder how long it can possibly go on, and you also wonder if it's funny. the crowd is trying to answer the same questions, as they whistle, cheer, groan, and ultimately REALLY get into it. one understands just what the band is up to : it's the opening of the show and they know the crowd will put up w/ just about anything. it's going to be a good night; and no one is going to request "creep."

14 November 2005

joe tex - "the love you save (may be your own)" (from the very best of joe tex lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : joe tex amends the book of love on this elvis costello favorite.

joe tex is all things to all people: disco fans remember "ain't gonna bump no more (with no big fat woman)"; tarantino cultists know "i gotcha"; beat junkies are well aware of the opening to "papa was too"; golden age soul lovers doubtlessly know all the words to "hold what you've got." he remains, alas, a minor figure--indeed, despite casting such a wide net, how many people even recognize the name? even amongst the soul lovers, how many remember "the love you save (may be your own)"--not the jackson 5 song, though it would've been a hoot to hear a young michael tackle this--a number two r&b hit from 1966?

elvis costello does; in fact, he put the song on his artist's choice mix, a compilation of tracks that inspired and influenced him. i haven't seen the liners, so i don't know what he says about it, but i bet he wishes he wrote the lyric (written by tex, as almost all of his records were, "fat woman" notwithstanding). for what it's worth, it contains one of my favorite verses in pop music : "i've been pushed around / i've been lost and found / i've been given 'til sundown to get out of town." love is imagined as an ungrateful town; one begins to picture tex as gary cooper in high noon.

it's much more than the lyric, though, and i bet e.c. acknowledges it too. i know the words are joe's, but i don't know who's responsible for the arrangement. before the first chorus, the track features a wobbly trombone; in tandem w/ the 12/8 piano, it gives the impression that joe's been kicked out a bar after last call--the trombone could be the footsteps of the pink elephant, the xylophone chiming after "stop!" could be the church bells in the square marking four a.m. after the chorus, though, it changes: the trombone is accompanied by its fellows in the horn section and together they keen quietly behind the vocal. suddenly, joe doesn't sound like the town drunk; instead, his words resound like those of a prophet : he is the man, he suffered, he was there. typically, joe's vocals are hardly less thunderous than those of moses on sinai, but here he's restrained, content to test his lower range. it too wobbles, like the trombone, but it's a heartening sound : a prophet he may be, but he also has feet of clay. joe tex is looking out for you, if you would but listen.
the futureheads - "area" (from the area ep, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo.

for wags like me, who were caught saying things like, "yeah, the futureheads debut lp is all right, but it's nothing compared to their debut seven-inch. what? 1-2-3-nul!? no, i mean their first, self-released seven-inch, w/ songs like 'park inn.' you didn't hear it? figures"--for folks like us, the new futureheads ep returns to that original sound. (what? you didn't &c.)

oh, i liked "decent days & nights" as much as the next modern rock fan, but it didn't necessarily have to be a futureheads song (it could've been, the wags said, a knack song--not by me, though: i'm not that waggish). the futureheads, as i understand them, are different from the bloc partys and kaiser chiefs of the world, although either of those bands would happily trade their copy of return the gift for a hook as infectious as the "da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo" that runs through "area." no, the 'heads are a bit like late early wire: crammed w/ fully-developed ideas in half the run time of other bands; an aural assault from all directions (by longitude and latitude--or length by width, even). and b/c they're not early early wire, they're always going to be a little less popular than those aforementioned bands--which is fine for types like me, for whom obscurity is half the fun, but w/ its mix of hooks and experimentation, it should play well w/ general audiences, if given a shot.

11 November 2005

i admit it : i've got nothing today. this week has been ... something else, allowing little time to listen to new music.

so, um, in honor of my three month anniversary yesterday, here is a repost of the first mp3 i posted, roll deep's "the avenue," a song i enjoy even more today. this is a link to the original posting.

oh, and, if you go here, and if you click on the third box on the upper right-hand side of the page, you can hear the new futureheads' single, "area," from the forthcoming ep of the same name.

10 November 2005

toni braxton - "love shoulda brought you home" (from the ultimate toni braxton lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : uptown soul from the turn of the 90's, w/ an opening to set the night aflame and a vocal to stoke the fire.

"love shoulda brought you home" has one of the most amazing openings of any pop records i've heard in the last twenty years. that piano glissando is like the sound of a city skyline lighting up, a concatenation of incandescence. the rest of it--the piano vamping, the backing vocals, the strings--reminds me of nothing so much as the four tops' "baby i need your lovin'," the feeling it gives off of something beginning.

what was beginning, exactly, was the career of toni braxton. right, the anita baker comparisons--click the link and you'll see even amazon implies them, by linking this album w/ the best of anita baker. not entirely w/o merit, but, w/ all due respect to anita (and that's a lot of respect), i've never heard her this fiery. what's most amazing about the performance is how toni is able to display two seemingly contradictory emotions: giddiness and indignation. the indignation is in the lyric, it's there in the growls; the giddiness comes through in the gusto w/ which she takes to the song, as if she too senses that this is her big break.

what it signalled the end of was exactly this kind of song and songwriting thriving anywhere except on adult contemporary. it's jazzy, it has a bridge, it's organic--it's like v. little you'll hear on radio today, period. (an aside : does anyone know what daryl simmons did exactly?) this is one of babyface's best songs, and one is left to wonder if he took it too far, if he overreached and, for corrective measures, urban radio went all the way to the other direction. what that opening also inspires is optimism, and hope that this kind of music, this marriage of performer and song, perhaps learning a lesson from the music that's thrived while it's been in the wilderness, will thrive once more.
kate bush - "pi" (from the aerial lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : and suddenly math seems like a sexy idea ...

two days ago, kate bush released her first album in twelve years, entitled aerial. "pi," on which she recites that number to the one-hundred-fourteenth place, is sexier than anything to be found on the album of the other forty-seven year-old mom to release an album this month. (did you know they were born seventeen days apart? prince, a noted bush fan--pun unintended, but left in anyway--would probably make something of that. he, too, was born in 1958, and so was michael jackson. quite a foursome.)

for me, kate bush doesn't have one of those voices i'd listen to even if she recited the phonebook, so the idea of her reciting pi held little appeal to me. but, jesus, it is a sexy number, kate taking to flights of fancy, creating indelible melodies from the numbers comprising the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. i mean, read that again--dry, right? just a lot of numbers, but it is golden and sunkissed, lightly funky. there are other bits to it, and it's all probably v. clever, b/c it is kate bush after all, and she's had twelve years to think about it. i mean, i'm not even a math dork and i love it. i am, however, a lit geek, and so she had me from "wuthering heights." when that phonebook album does come along, i'll be waiting on line.

09 November 2005

h.p. lovecraft - "i've been wrong before" (from the two classic albums from h.p. lovecraft lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : an ill wind is about to blow your way ...

yeah, it's still the 60's. but it's dropping down to the 50's in these parts, and that's at the dead of noon too.

h.p. lovecraft's take on "i've been wrong before," though, is music from the dead of night. if you're familiar w/ the song, it may be from dusty springfield's interpretation (if you only know the lovecraft version, what a funny fellow you are). that production features an icy piano line and some icer still strings: it's deep winter music, cold like the half of the bed that used to be warmed by another. lovecraft is another kind of thing altogether, the heart of autumn right before it stops beating. woodwinds and group harmonies, it's kinda like the airplane, but, as the band name might suggest, creepier.

whereas dusty seems to sing in the first person, the guys in lovecraft sound like a greek chorus: disinterested, direct, and powerless to stop it. unlike the springfield take, it doesn't look like i've been wrong before so much as you have. it's a taunt from a nightmare that carries over into waking life, leaving you unsettled and unsure of yourself, w/ only the vaguest sense that it all wasn't just a dream.

good night, folks.
cat power - "living proof" (from the greatest lp, to be released january 2006.)

in brief : lusty in memphis.

when first hearing "the greatest," i made some cursory comparisons to dusty in memphis. true enough, the vocal similarities are there, and she did record the album in memphis w/ some of al green's old sidemen. giving it more thought, though, one major difference asserted itself, and it has to do w/ what each woman thinks a bed is for. again, historically, both dusty and chan seem to think that a bed is something that one sometimes doesn't leave for days, only, listening to dusty in memphis, one gets the idea that dusty has company whereas chan is all by her lonesome.

this, happily enough, is not the case on "living proof." chan is getting some, or soon will, and, you know what? good for her. she moans and wails, but in the throes of ecstasy instead of agony, in the process reminding one of the thin line between the sounds of sex and the sounds of pain. really, the whole thing reeks of S-E-X, from the vocals to the swelling of the band on the chorus. they're all in on it: the drummer, the pianist, the organ player--well, you get the point.

08 November 2005

pearls before swine - "another time" (from the one nation underground lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : a lot of bands sell few records; few become cult bands. this record helpfully--and beautifully--demonstrates the difference.

i'm trying to come up w/ a good reason why you should listen to this.

how about this: if you dig scott walker, and scott 4 above all of the other albums, "another time" would segue perfectly from "angels of ashes" to "boy child." harpsichords, harps, acoustic guitars ring through infinite space, delineating the same path through other worlds that those two songs promise.

oh, but then there's the voices.

yeah, so about that. bob dylan opened a lot of doors, paved the way for a bunch of singers who didn't sing conventionally, pearl before swine's tom rapp among them. from what i hear, actually, a teenaged rapp topped dylan himself in a local talent contest. and yet, today, no one, apart from yo la tengo fans (and, um, me), talks about tom rapp. this may be b/c of the voice. yes, rapp's voice is a bit different, but unlike dylan, he opened few doors--indeed, after about four years recording as pearls before swine, the door was shut on the band's career. no, there are few singers who have followed in rapp's wake; adenoids are apparently less of an acquired taste than the lisp which marks rapp's singing. nor did he help matters by penning lyrics like the following: "did you follow the summer out when the winter pushed its face in the snow?" nothing wrong w/ that, really ... only when rapp sings it comes across slushier.

so, all the pieces are in place for this to be a big joke--and, of what i've heard of the band's other material, it usually is just that--but i've never greeted this song w/ laughter. if anything, it's one of those rare pieces of art that slows the passage of time, that is positively spellbinding. that rapp failed to achieve the success of a bob dylan has little to do w/ small-mindedness and everything to do w/ the fact that his songwriting was seldom so stellar (easy for me to say, yes). that he had the promise to do so is evident every time one listens to this record.
neil diamond - "delirious love" (from the 12 songs lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : diamond in the rough.

this is the second time in his career that neil diamond has sought out respect. almost thirty years ago, he recorded beautiful noise w/ robbie robertson, and w/ this new record, he goes the cash route and makes a record w/ rick rubin.

actually, it's more truthful to say that respect, embodied by the figure of rubin, sought him out: apparently, this is a dream project for rubin. listening to 12 songs, one realizes that rubin has a v. particular diamond in mind, viz. the neil of the bang recordings. if beautiful noise was a recreation of that era, 12 songs is a reclamation. there is not one wasted note on the record and it's been shorn of any extraneous elements.

12 songs is also a reclamation of diamond himself. when he worked w/ cash, rubin merely dusted a bit of the gray off, allowing a new generation of listeners to see the man in black in full. cash will remain a totem of cool; diamond, on the other hand, is a totem of kitsch, but the lapidary work rubin has done here has the desired effect. that said, it'll be interesting to see how the "fans," whoever they are, will react. "delirious love" is a bit like "cracklin' rosie," but in leather boots and played w/ tomcat ferocity. it's a song to enjoy b/c you enjoy it, not b/c of how it will sound in an early-am bar or onstage bedecked w/ sequins. it is, in effect, your mother's neil diamond album--and you should probably listen to your mother.

07 November 2005

fairport convention - "i'll keep it with mine" (from the meet on the ledge : the classic years (1967-1975) lp, available for purchase here.)
pentangle - "once i had a sweetheart" (from the basket of light lp, available for purchase here.)

i'm watching the colts-pats--or, more to the point, i'm not watching halftime. so i have v. little time to say anything about these two records. quick and to the point, then.

fairport : probably the best dylan cover ever. i've never heard his original--or i did and it left no impression. can't imagine how he'd do it after hearing this, unless it was in a big newport folk circle, like "with God on our side." this version by fairport strengthens the sense of community in the face of impending doom best heard on "meet on the ledge." w/ sandy denny on one's side, though, it's hard to think that anyone could get the best of you. (but who was on her side?) she lifts this, and when she sings, "come on, give it to me," you'll likely give her whatever she asks for, or steal her anything she sees.

pentangle : after fairport, probably the best of the british folk bands (though steeleye span might have something to say about that). not a thing i would change about this record--well, all right, since you asked. yes, it reeks of pot smoke, but it was the late 60's, and not even the folkies were safe. especially the folkies. jacqui mcshee is the hero of this folktale, lady and conqueror all in one.
cut copy - "going nowhere" (from the bright like neon love lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : cut or copy, either way, and then paste this onto daft punk's discovery, side one, and call it "neon love."

with their debut just reissued for the third time in seventeen months, australia's cut copy have followed the similar circuitous path as the crimea and the earlies. "future" was one of the best singles of the summer, w/ synths that pummeled like humidity and airy spans as refreshing as a water hydrant.

"going nowhere" sounds almost--almost!--as if it could've fit seamlessly into the brilliant opening triptych of daft punk's discovery, which is about the highest praise i could give to record made this decade. instead, it's merely a record you wish had had the daft punk name attached to it, rather than that farce of a album they foisted upon us. (i insist it is a farce! i insist that they foisted! human after all is their metal machine music and i will go to my grave believing this.) instead of a summer record, "going nowhere" is a song that should help you make the transition into fall--its "colors," to this synesthete, blaze like foliage--especially if it's as unexpectedly warm where you are as it is here.

04 November 2005

giant drag - "kevin is gay" (from the hearts and unicorns lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : i thought kevin was seeing bilinda?

don't let the sub-bloodhound gang title fool you: this is the nearest i've heard to an my bloody valentine riff since the first joy zipper's american whip. you know the type, one of those tones that seem to bend in half, as if snapped over your knee.

other than that, unlike an mbv song, there's not a whole hell of a lot going on; i kept waiting for the riff return, willing to put up w/ just about anything, and only the end of the song seems to threaten to sink to the level of the title and band name, but you don't have to listen to the song beyond its end, now do you? (think about that.) singer annie hardy sounds pretty damn self-involved--and like a west coast karen o.--but she's also damn pretty, so she can get away w/ a lot, particularly if guitarist continues to come up w/ riffs like these.

03 November 2005

john fahey - "sunflower river blues" (from the returned of the repressed : the john fahey anthology, available for purchase here.)

in brief : music to die by.

some time ago, i believe i said i wanted this played at my funeral. "sunflower river blues" would go on before the service, the 1974 version specifically (it was also recorded in 1963 and 1967), while people were still arriving, paying their respects, and expressing condolence. it's pensive and ruminative and would soundtrack well the type of small talk and regretful murmuring that takes place at such moments.

i need to tread carefully, b/c i realize how easily i could fall into cliche and bad metaphors, comparing life to a river and such, which really has no role in why i would want this music played. no, i would request this merely b/c it strikes a right chord--i should've added "bad puns" to the above. it's fully resigned and emotionally spent, how one approaches a funeral, if they have any hope of surviving the death of the loved one.

oh, and i suppose the song is like a river, and then like life, in the way it picks up new parts, receiving contributions from different tributaries, and drops others, relinquishing so much to the sea. this being the 1974 version, it also slows down considerably near the end, as those blessed w/ longer lives do.

i wish i knew more about guitar playing so i could tell you what makes fahey so special. if i were to try to describe it, i guess i'd say that it sounds humble, fahey approaches the guitar w/ head bowed. he has obviously grown v. comfortable w/ the tune eleven years after penning it; like monk, he deconstructs and unravels, stripping the song to its essence, and then stripping it further. in this way, he peels back the layers, performing the work of remembrance, the life lived flashes before the assemblage's eyes.

in the end, it's about as lonesome and hopeful as a fella standing on the side of the road, his thumb out, and in his other hand, a cloth sack attached to a stick. and that's maybe as good as we can ask for.
living things - "bom bom bom" (from the ahead of the lions lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : much more than just a fire in the disco.

the living things look like the verve on crack instead of heroin. i start w/ this b/c, in this new rock world, the influence of appearance and the seeming loyalty to a particular drug say as much about a band as their record collection.

so, kasabian? no, these boys--three brothers and another guy, like the early bee gees--are american. not the killers, but you wouldn't be far off in thinking louis xiv, both bands sharing an interest in the t. rex strut. the living things, though, are far less obsessed w/ their dicks, and more concerned about the biggest dick of them all. just look at the website, touched by the hand of chomsky and zinn.

manic street preachers, then? kinda. if the manics pledge allegiance to guns n' roses, the living things salute those about to rock, "bom bom bom" carried along by industrial-strength ac/dc riffs. lead singer lillian is no j.d. bradfield, though, or no bon scott, for that matter; instead, his deathbed hiss barely rises above the din of guitars. and when he sings of shaking the city to the broad day light, think less about "you shook me all night long" and more about boms over baghdad.

02 November 2005

field mice - "end of the affair" (from the snowball lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : a record of hate far more than of love.

here it's been fall for over a month and i've yet to post a field mice track.

when writing for the field mice, bobby wratten understood autumn better than just about any songwriter in thirty years (as trembling blue stars, though, he's made deep winter his home). the languorous guitar lines, a bit like eno's "taking tiger mountain," drop softly and slow, like the last leaves to fall from december trees. wratten himself follows the patterns of the leaves, only in reverse: in the spring and summer, he's either red or yellow, but it's not until autumn that he turns green. "once i needed you so," he coos, "now i can't stand being in the same room as you, i can't even stand the sight of you"--mostly, though, he's just blue.

flourishes of cello and oboe lend gravity and stoicism to his heartache, making the song more like the greene novel it's named after. of course, that's where the similarities end; wratten and bendrix are two v. different protagonists. sarah ultimately can't resist bendrix's charms, while wratten is powerless to prevent the break-up. "this is it, isn't it?" he sings, w/ a certainty that belies the question mark. like a good lawyer, he never asks a question he doesn't already know the answer to.
lady sovereign - "hoodie" (from the hoodie single, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : lady sov makes a fashion statement and it becomes her--and it becomes you to listen.

leaving aside the question of how lady sov can appoint herself fashion police and still end up in a hoodie, "hoodie" is too good of a single to be released in november, when traditionally most record companies and artists have called it a year. it comes w/ the usual squelchy electronic soundz heard on your average grime record, but on the chorus, it adds a slicing rhythm guitar line that sounds like it escaped from the new junior senior record, or from "fanfare in the garden." then, toward the end, lady sov breaks it down over a tubthumping drum part. it's a bit like little michael asking you to "shake it, shake it, baby!"--only sov begs you to "boogie woogie w/ me!"

actually, rather than a jackson 5 record, it reminds me of nothing so much as pre-beatles, post-elvis american girl pop. lady sovereign could just as easily be claudine clark or little eva, crying out against the unfairness of social convention. the ending seals it, the breakdown sounding like a conspiratorial moment, sov turning things down a bit so all girls w/in her area can hear her. w/ such a beguiling sound, it'd be hard not to rally to her call, hoodie or no.

01 November 2005

the weather prophets - "almost prayed" (from the blue skies & free rides : the best of 1986-1989 compilation, available for purchase here.)

in brief : say a prayer for peter astor.

poor peter astor. he's like dangerfield-in-reverse: lots of respect, but no fame. indeed, each one of his bands was less successful than the last, starting w/ the loft and most recently w/ wisdom of harry. in between, he was the face of the weather prophets. alan mcgee loved them, back when that meant something; alas, he was as successful plugging the weather prophets as he's been w/ poptones. which is a shame, b/c the weather prophets, unlike the paddingtons, deserved it.

"almost prayed" is an ideal walking song, its "waiting for the man" piano keeps the rhythm, while jangly, creedence riff adds the requisite swagger. it just so happens that "almost prayed" is itself a song about walking, about the narrator's pilgrimage, like so many great rock journeys, down to the river. anyone familiar w/ similar treks by neil young, springsteen, and pulp know that it never ends well, but for the weather prophets, it's a moment of revelation, a celebration of the beauty of the natural world. "almost prayed" is itself a revelation; one only wishes that astor had a larger platform. like mt. sinai, say.
arab strap - "dream sequence" (from the last romance lp, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : not coldplay.

... though the opening piano melody would make you think it was. i don't think i've ever said this about an arab strap record before, but chris martin would happily embrace such a tune, if only it weren't in a minor key, and the production so dirty.

yes, don't despair, strap fans--or, rather, do! aidan and malcom still work in minor keys, and the production is not all that's dirty. basically, aidan dreams that his girl's a slut; he also wants her to share w/ him all of her past sexual experiences to get him off. an odd request coming from guys who in the past have come across like dante in clerks, unable to handle the number of cocks their girls have sucked.

if such frank language offends, clearly the strap is not for you--or, the sexist would maintain, it's just what you need. (a generalization: aidan and malcolm make music for guys who can't get coldplay-lovin' gals into bed.) that said, it's as lovely a track as it can be, hazy guitars supplying it the air of a nocturne. it's almost optimistic, aidan asking himself what he did to deserve such a woman--if only he didn't seem so determined to fuck it up.

almost optimistic, then.